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Will we relive 1993 sweep!
Venkatapathy Raju rewinds to India's Test series against England at home in early 1993, when the spin trio of Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and Raju bamboozled Gooch, Gatting and Co as Azhar's men won all three games...
It's always nice to recollect good memories. When I revisit our 3-0 victory over England in the Test series in 1993, it makes me feel good. Everything was different during that series, be it our team composition or the pitches. We had an edge over England in all three departments, especially bowling. Playing three spinners in all three Tests was a masterstroke and full credit goes to our captain Mohammad Azharuddin and coach Ajit Wadekar for planning such a strategy. Ajit had the experience of handling four spinners when he was the skipper and that came in handy.
The team management could afford to include three spinners in the playing XI because we were blessed to have two genuine allrounders - Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar - in the side. When you have a player like Manoj who can open both with the bat and the ball, it's a huge advantage. The combination of Manoj and Kapilpaaji worked very well. They got the early breakthroughs and the three spinners - Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and myself - consolidated the advantage.
The toss played a vital role in the first two Tests. When you play three spinners and just two medium pacers, winning the toss and batting first becomes a huge plus. Our batting lineup was formidable and Navjot Singh Siddhu, Manoj, Vinod Kambli, Sachin Tendulkar, Azhar, Pravin Amre, Kapil and Kiran More made it difficult for the England bowlers. It becomes easier for the bowlers when they have a big total to defend.
In the first match at the Eden Gardens we put up a good total and Azhar played a fantastic knock of 182. But one forgotten incident is that of Manoj scalping the in-form Alec Stewart with the first ball of his first over. It was a big blow and England could never recover. These days when people recollect Azhar's three-spinner theory, there naturally think the pitches must have been deadly turners. But they were nothing like that.
Graeme Hick, Mike Gatting, Stewart, Richard Blakey, Robin Smith and even Chris Lewis scored big runs in that series. It's just that the Indian spinners were on top of their game. That was the series which saw the beginning of the Anil Kumble journey. Anil was always on the spot and taking liberties against him was virtually out of the question. Our rivals those days hadn't quite figured out Kumble, and trying to play him as a classical leg-break bowler - waiting for the one that leaves the right-hander - they often found themselves plumb in front. I still remember his spell at Chepauk in the second Test (Kumble got 6-64 ). He was simply unplayable and won us the series. This time around, India again have three quality spinners in R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh. The million-dollar question is: Can Dhoni can play all three? The crucial issue will obviously be the pitches. I'm not asking for rank turners but the spinners should be able to get something out of the tracks. I was quite surprised to see the pitches on offer in the opening round of the Ranji Trophy.
When you are looking at Ojha as one of your main guys, there's no point asking him to bowl on a seam-friendly track in the preparatory game. The fact that Ojha went for 201 runs won't do his confidence any good going into a series of this magnitude. Moreover, Dhoni's side does not have a genuine allrounder. You can't expect Yuvraj Singh to take that responsibility as he is still getting used to longer format of the game. Another factor that will help England is that they go into the first Test after playing three practice matches, a rarity in the packed international calendar these days.
This current England side has been playing good cricket for some time and I don't see any reason why India should have it easy. They are a well-prepared side and have a spinner quality in Graeme Swann, who has the ability to give the batsmen a run for their money. If the Indian spinners get the track of their choice, who knows, maybe we'll get a chance to relive the early months of 1993!
(Venkatapathy Raju played 28 Tests for India between 1990 and 2001, picking up 93 wickets with five 5-wicket hauls and one 10-wicket haul. As told to Krishna Kanta Chakraborty)
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